Hello Mark. You’ve had a pretty interesting career in the whisky industry, and for almost a decade years you’ve been “the whisky man” for Cadenhead’s, the oldest Scottish independent bottler. If you had to resume a career in three key concepts, or three ‘secrets’, which would they be?
Be open and transparent, do things as natural as possible, natural colour etc and keep your standards high.
It’s just a couple of months that you’ve founded the Campbeltown Whisky Company, and you just announced the Watt Whisky brand as an indie bottler. Would you like to explain us what are your plans and your goals with your own company?
The plan is to start a small independent bottler under the Watt Whisky Brand, due to 2009 regulations unless all whisky is from Campbeltown is from Campbeltown that is in the bottle the name Campbeltown can not appear on the label anywhere – not even as a website, this is true of all names that include one of the whisky regions hence why the whisky will be bottled under the Watt Whisky brand. Myself and Kate hope to bottle somewhere in the region of 15 casks a year so by keeping it small we will be able to keep what we are offer changing with each release. We will always be unchilfiltered an natural colour. The majority of what we will bottle will be single cask and at cask strength. We are not looking to take over the world just to bottle the best whisky that we can. Initially whisky and then moving into rum and then who knows!
We’ve always liked your ‘relaxed’ approach to the business, without taking yourself and whisky too seriously. How this approach will be expressed in your new company?
I see no need for anything to change other than obviously now I have to answer to Kate. I always feel if your whisky is good you don’t need to be too serious. At the end of the day whisky is an alcoholic drink that is made to be enjoyed – preferably with friends. We can all geek out on whisky and I enjoy geeking out too, but good company in a relaxed atmosphere always makes whisky taste better to me.
In the past you talked about the great moment for IBs: is it still the same? What’s the biggest obstacle for a start-up in this world? And about your new company: are you going to be more traditionalist or more experimental?
Biggest obstacle is getting casks, buying casks is easy, getting good casks at a good price is the more difficult bit. This company is also a challenge for me as I have always worked for companies who have had their own bottling halls so this will be a total change of direction for me. The other big obstacle is cashflow, as with any business, but casks are expensive and casks need to be bought in advance – this is why the success of the crowdfunder has blown us away as it really has allowed us to move forward a lot more quickly than we would otherwise have been able to.
As for the company I would say we will probably be much more traditional in our approach to doing things, mainly standard wood options and not too many wacky finishes etc – that said if we try some outlandish spirit that we like we will happily bottle it. We are literally putting our names on the bottle so we have to make sure we are happy with what we put inside it.
Which is your approach in selecting a cask? What do you look for, what do you try to avoid…?
Fairly simple here it needs to be good! Not every cask will get 92 points from Serge and we are aware of that, but the whisky needs to be a good example of what it is. I also like to make sure that you get to taste the whisky, the distillery character needs to shine through rather than being masked by the cask. That said nothing is off the table as long as it is something that we would be happy to drink ourselves and fits in with the natural colour / non chillfiltered philosophy.
Campbeltown is the smallest whisky region in Scotland, even if it had a glorious past; and it’s also the place you decided to live in. What’s so special about Campbeltown?
I love Campbeltown and very much have adopted it as my home, sorry Speyside! It is a very relaxed place to live and to bring up Children, we have our second child due in a few days! There was never any thought of leaving here. I like that it has an island feel to the place and there is actually more here than there would be in similar towns throughout Scotland due to the fact that it is so far away. That said if it could be a little closer to a proper airport etc it would be nice.
You’ve seen a few phases of whisky business. How do you see the future? Are there any potential threats to the current boom of the industry?
There are many threats outside our control – Covid-19, Brexit etc, I think we have all been saying for about 10 years now that the bubble is going to burst and it hasn’t so long may that continue. I think we may see some more casks becoming available on the market also. I think whisky is strong enough now that it will always do well in established markets, the main threat is with prices continuing to rise for entry level whiskies it may slow the rate of new whisky drinkers coming into the category. I think there is a lot more cross over all for drinkers these days more and more people are also drinking other spirits, rum, cognac, mezcal, gin etc than perhaps in the past people were much more singularly minded – so peoples available spend on spirits is perhaps being shared amongst other categories a bit more.
We’re all in lockdown, so it’s a moment in which the whole industry is trying to prepare to different scenarios due to covid. It’s maybe too early to know, but how do you think this will affect the whisky world?
If I knew that I would be a much cleverer man than I am!
New distilleries are popping up like mushrooms. Is it positive or negative, in your opinion? Are there some recent distilleries you particularly trust?
I think it is good for the industry, new distilleries all over the world just help to reinforce whisky as a whole. I worry slightly that there may be too many new distilleries if there is a down turn but I wish them all the best. There are many excellent new projects to follow and I will probably miss some obvious ones out here but ones to watch for me would be in no particular order, Milk and Honey, Yorkshire Distillery, Bimber, Wolfburn, Balindalloch, Ardnamurchan and obviously the guys up in Dornoch.